Photos from 20 Years of Ghost House: 8 Must-See Movies
For horror fans, it’s a familiar and welcome sight: a wooden door left slightly ajar appears on screen. Suddenly, it closes, apparently on its own. Then the camera pans to the keyhole in the door, and as we peek through the opening, a skull leaps into view, and the words “Ghost House Pictures” materialize.
Founded in 2002 by genre legend Sam Raimi and producer/Xena: Warrior Princess co-creator Robert Tapert, the horror film production company has released some of the best-known entries in the genre. Twenty titles flew under their banner, with the highly anticipated evil dead rises be the latest. To celebrate their two decades in the business, here’s a list of eight of their most essential movies (plus a few honorable mentions). Some are recognized classics, while others are minor bangers worth reappraising after initially being missed or dismissed. All are highlights of a solid twenty-year series of nightmares.
The Grudge (2004)
The inaugural photo of Ghost House, The Grudge is an interesting entry in the slew of J-Horror remakes that broke out of American studios in the early years. Unlike its predecessor, the ring, whose success has officially launched the craze, this story remains on Japanese soil (although its story is told from the point of view of a few American expatriates). Additionally, Takashi Shimizu, the writer/director of the original Ju-on franchise, was brought in to direct the film. The final product is a bit uneven and perhaps not as effective today as when it debuted nearly twenty years ago, but there is a nostalgia attached to the film for fans of a certain age. whose introduction to horror was Kayako’s shuddering croak.
messengers is the definition of a mixed bag. The film went through several rewrites (the prequel released two years later, Messengers 2: The Scarecrow, was actually based on the original script before it was hacked into pieces), which explains the disjointed narrative. It also sports some traits that can make midyear horror feel dated, including some crummy-looking CGI and an overreliance on jump alerts. So why is it included in this list? For starters, this haunted house image contains terrifying sequences of ghostly mischief that resemble some of the scares James Wan would create years later in the first two entries of the Conjuring franchise. Directed by the Pang Brothers (The eye, dangerous bangkok), the film has an inventive and unique visual style for its time. messengers also has a surprisingly beautiful score, which is not so surprising when you see that the composer Joseph LoDuca of the evil Dead franchise was its creator. Finally, for all KStew fans, it features a first lead role of Kristen Stewart.
30 days of night (2007)
Based on the bestselling comic by the dynamite creative team of Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, 30 days of night made vampires scary again. Stripping away the romantic aura that had effectively disenchanted the monster at the time, the bloodsuckers featured in the film are cruel, remorseless killing machines. Coupled with this spooky new approach is an idea so ingenious it’s hard to believe it’s taken anyone so long to think of it: what if vampires descend on a town in one of the regions the northernmost parts of the globe that had experienced weeks of total darkness? Would its unique geography result in an all-you-can-eat human buffet for vampires, or would members of its community mount some sort of counterattack against the beasts? Now put that premise in the capable hands of director David Slade and add the hunky face of Josh Hartnett, and you’ve got yourself a gem of a picture.
In 2008, Ghost House launched Ghost House Underground, a movie acquisition company that sought to bring new independent horror offerings to the home video market. Fifteen titles have been released over the label’s three years, and writer/director Tom Shankland children was by far one of his most memorable. Centered on a family vacation that turns into a nightmare when a virus turns its children into murderous maniacs, children is a brutal piece of psychological horror that takes elements from the slasher and zombie subgenres and creates a uniquely terrifying visual experience. It will stick with you long after the movie is over (especially if you’re a parent) and also includes a delightful knee-jerk of a catchphrase: “You brought them into this world. Now they’re going to take you out.”
drag me to hell (2009)
Marking Sam Raimi’s triumphant return to the genre that helped make him one of cinema’s most exciting directors, drag me to hell is a deliciously satisfying piece of horror. Her story is simple but effective: a young woman struggles to find a cure for a curse placed on her, lest her soul be, well, dragged down to hell. Everything about Raimi’s gruesome bag of tricks is thrown at us in this photo, from his frenetic camerawork to his signature mastery of the coarse gore gag. It also has a wonderful score by legendary composer Christopher Young and a surprisingly dark ending that still hits you hard in the gut today. While its CGI has aged nearly as badly as its stereotypical depiction of Roma, drag me to hell is still a staple of the Ghost House filmography.
He tends to get lost in the countless exorcism movies that studios were regurgitating at the time, but Ownership was actually a pretty solid entry into the subgenre. Inspired by the 2003 viral story of an allegedly haunted wine cellar that was being sold on Ebay (its owner would later recant, essentially saying he did it for the lulz), the film follows a similarly cursed box that a family buys at a garage sale. The demonic villains within eventually reinstall themselves in the youngest clan member’s soul and creepy hijinks ensue. Whereas Ownership does not reinvent the wheel in terms of tropes too often seen in the countless films attempting to follow in the footsteps of William Friedkin The Exorcist, he doesn’t need it, thanks to the strength of what he does well. It has an undeniably creepy atmosphere, features likable and believable characters, and features some genuinely unsettling visuals.
evil Dead (2013)
By far the most controversial entry on this list, Fede Álvarez’s reimagining of Sam Raimi’s seminal film is thankfully finally recognized as one of the best remakes in horror history. A look back at some of the incredibly negative responses evil Dead received (I specifically remember a prominent podcast at the time declaiming for an entire episode how sacrilegious the movie was), you can’t help but scratch your head a little. It beautifully honored the tone and aesthetic of the original while giving us a film that truly felt like its own unique beast. Aside from a masterful balance of ambition and fan service, it also sports some of the best gory effects seen in years (I still can’t see an X-Acto knife without thinking of this stage) and a track that might have filled Ash’s shoes well had she had the chance. What more could you want?
don’t breathe (2016)
Three years later evil DeadFede Álvarez returns to the big screen with a film that will prove to be Ghost House’s biggest hit since 2004 The Grudge. Continuing the filmmaker’s penchant for crafting stories full of suspense and brutality, don’t breathe tells the story of three young burglars hoping for a big payday when they break into the house of a wealthy blind man. Unfortunately for them, it turns out the owner of the house is a killing machine who is more than capable of dealing with the unlucky trio who are now locked inside with him. With a deeply chilling performance from Stephen Lang as the homicidal landlord and a climax so unexpected it made this writer’s skin crawl, don’t breathe snuck up on audiences upon release and became one of the highest-grossing Ghost House images to date.
Seventh Moon (2009)
Another fun Ghost House Underground. If you can ignore its truly agonizing use of the shaky camera, you’ll find a chilling piece of folk horror with a surprisingly emotional finale. And for a film whose biggest flaw is its camerawork, its final shot is an absolute stunner. To quote David Johansen in Scrooged: “Niagara Falls!”
The Grudge (2020)
I’m really baffled by the hate this movie has received. Granted, it did away with Kayako, but the spirit of the franchise and its mythology were all there, along with gorgeous art direction and deeply moving performances from its ensemble cast. I will die on this hill; however lonely she is.
the godless (2021)
This one surprised me. It relies too heavily on scary jumps and has a third act that crumbles faster than Wile E. Coyote plummeting off a cliff, but the godless also has a neat little story that attempts to examine the nature of belief and the commodification of faith. And his creature design is actually pretty darn gnarly, to boot!